Jill's Picks

what to do when i'm gone

What to do When I’m Gone: a Mother’s Wisdom to her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman

A mother/daughter duo write and illustrate a veritable user’s guide from a mother to her daughter on what she can do/how she can cope following her death. The illustrations and advice work seamlessly together, giving the reader a clearer picture of how they can take small steps after the death of a parent that seem to make it somewhat possible. The advice begins concretely, such as “clean your house,” but is often followed up by tender life lessons, “You are numb. It’s time to put your home in order. Give everything a place. Make it make sense. Make your room the exact opposite of the randomness of existence, the mercilessness of mortality.” The book follows the daughter into old age, so that the mother may still impart lessons of moral standing and self-care that she won’t be able to relay in person. The distillation of the book results in one whose reach extends beyond parent/child grief. This book is for anyone who needs a guiding hand from a parental figure, and mother/author Suzy Hopkins fills in that space with encouragement and permission to switch jobs, take a mental health day, protest, travel, and pursue anything and everything that speaks to your individual soul.

   pandora room

The Pandora Room by Christopher Golden

It was a surprise and delight to see Christopher Golden reprise a number of characters from his previous novel Ararat, about the discovery of Noah’s Ark with an evil presence lurking within. The Pandora Room is what you could call a “sequel-light,” where it’s not necessary to read the first but if you do, it’s a fun little insider nugget to meet up with some old friends. The Pandora Room leads us down a literal cave into the depths of Northern Iraq as archaeologist Sophie Durand unearths (so many puns) a jar that much like Noah’s dubious ark in Ararat, may be an actual Pandora’s Box, containing within it the pleasures of all the world, or the alternative, all of its evil. This is a perfect “outside of the box” summer read, containing romance, action, history, mythology, memory and longing, family, and most of what you’d want to transport you to another world while reading on your lunch break or sitting at the beach. 

   american prison

American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer

Reporter Shane Bauer goes undercover in the South as a guard for a for-profit prison and shares his experiences, most of which are documented via hidden surveillance and notes taken during his time “inside.” What Bauer recounts conjures the plethora of human emotion; his experiences with the administration, inmates and system itself are gripping, shocking, bittersweet, appalling, and beautiful. Reminiscent of In Cold Blood in its narrative style, Bauer leaps ahead of the genre by using source material as opposed to imaginative retelling because oftentimes reality is more heart-wrenching than any mind could create. The chapters alternate between the daily ruminations and experiences of both author and inmates, and a history of slavery and its direct link to the current-day for-profit system, throwing into stark reminder that the institution of slavery in America has never really ceased, only donned new mask.

   lost and wanted

Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger

In this haunting book about friendship and memory, author Nell Freudenberger creates a beautifully complex portrait of the intricacies, intimacy and miscommunication that accompanies all relationships, but especially friendships between women. The entirety of the book details the friendship between Helen (astrophysicist) and Charlie (Charlotte, writer in Hollywood), on and off best friends since college. We are placed in current day, and then taken back through time and forward again with a bird’s eye view of the ebb and blow of their lives in micro and macro ways, with a subtle emphasis on how powerfully one person can shape us, while continually remaining a mystery. Freudenberger weaves memory with the wonder of space; the validity, and lack thereof of what cannot be seen but proven, and the ambiguity of what lies within that space.


The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Icelandic mystery author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's thriller weaves together two seemingly disparate tales from decades apart. This unconventional story is infused with unexpected twists, engrossing characters and a delightfully shocking, unpredictable ending. The audio narration is wonderful and can be downloaded from My Media Mall. The APP for MyMediaMall is Libby.


Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

There are few times where I say, this book is wonderfully amazing and should be required reading for everyone, but this is one of those few times. This smart, deeply insightful, so, so personal and extremely well-narrated (by the author if you listen to audio, simply fabulous) book illuminates the raw feelings of another person, leaving you to examine your own preconceived notions concerning the bodies of those around you. It's also the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon with the advent of the television show starring Aidy Bryant in March of 2019 on Hulu.


Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Oh, the soothing and clipped flatness of John Darnielle’s voice is music to my Midwestern ears. Author Darnielle is a stellar audiobook narrator, adding the emphasis that he first heard in his head while writing the novel. He’s also one of the few narrators that doesn’t add inflection for varying characters and somehow it works just perfectly. Universal Harvester begins with one of our main characters working in a video store during the 1990s and hesitantly investigates the strange occurrence of several videos being returned containing suspicious, somewhat macabre imagery. Darnielle crates a slow, spreading suspense that at times shocks but is never gratuitous or banal.


Ararat by Christopher Golden

A perfect book for those wanting something a little different than the mainstream mystery. It’s captivating and slightly unnerving with a lot of heart. Set in modern day, an explorer-couple journeys to Ararat, the mountain in Turkey Noah’s Ark supposedly landed after the flood according to the Bible. The novel explores the idea of what if Noah’s Ark was real, and a group of disparate entities, religious, academic, military, and anthropological, were brought together to research what was inside. Author Christopher Golden (Snowblind, Tin Men) weaves a tale that teases out the lives of each individual character, using their beliefs and reflections on past experiences to determine their actions as they face what may or may not be dead, trapped long ago in a tightly sealed coffin, at the time of the flood. The novel ends with the true icing on the ark, a completely original and wonderfully mind-blowing ending. The audio version was wonderful, read by Robert Fass, whose subtle accents and articulation suck you headfirst into the heart of the snowy, dark mountain. 


A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford

It’s mind-boggling to me that Jeffrey Ford isn’t a household name in horror along with your Joe Hills, Stephen Kings or Shirley Jacksons. His short stories are thoroughly original, eerie, and penetrate the psyche during the dark parts of the day. Such stories include that of an evil angel set in a desolate and isolating backdrop, a reanimated skeleton with a will of its own, and a devilishly quirky examination of clergymen as saint or sinner. A Natural History of Hell is a collection that you check out from your library for the first story, then purchase for your home collection.

   library book

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Though the print version is filled with wonderful photos that correspond to the text, I downloaded the audio, read by Orlean. First off, why isn’t this woman a professional voice-over actress? Her voice is soothing, strong, and emphatic–all the most exquisite ingredients that strengthen the truly captivating contents. Orlean’s research into this book alights with the Los Angeles Public Library and a fire that just short of decimated the building and its contents. From there, we are taken on a journey through time and space, pulling fantastic tidbits from library history that intersect with the history of the LA Public Library.


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